The Underlying Need

I’ve seen many examples of misinterpretation of the underlying need, and I just had to post about it. These two examples show a fundamental lack of understanding of the customer’s underlying need.

Recently, I went into Starbucks, and witnessed the following encounter: Starbucks was out of sleeves for hot cups, and the barista was asking the person at the register to double-cup the hot beverages. The person at the register said that she wouldn’t do that because it was wasteful, and that if customers wanted their beverage double-cupped, they could ask for it themselves. The barista replied that it was difficult for her because customers were asking for sleeves, then resorting to double-cups, and it was taking her time to have to go back and forth when 9 out of 10 customers were complaining that their drinks were too hot to hold.

I also noticed this same issue when I went out with a co-worker to pick up some donuts for the office. The donut shop only accepts cash, and he only had a debit card. He decided to go to the convenience store next door to see if they offered cash-back. He asked the attendant if they offered cash-back, and was told that they did not. However, the attendant failed to mention that they had an ATM machine in the back of the store!

So what gives? Why aren’t these people willing to help out their customers? The issue is not an unwillingness to help, but rather, missing the problem. In the first example, the person at the register incorrectly assumed that customers wanted sleeves for their cups. In fact, the customers wanted to keep their hands from burning on their hot beverages. Because heat was the underlying problem, any solution to mitigating the heat was acceptable. In the second example, the attendant failed to realize that my co-worker needed a way to get cash, and that an ATM was a perfect solution for his underlying need. The ability to recognize and meet the underlying need provides an unparalleled opportunity to Marketers.

Consider this: what if you can make your product or service become the underlying need? The “Hungry? Grab a Snickers” campaign is an excellent example of a Marketer making their product the underlying need. On the surface, they acknowledge that the person is hungry, and they are looking to satisfy their hunger. By saying, “Grab a Snickers” they are encouraging the person to associate Snickers as the only solution to hunger. Snickers hopes that the next time a person needs a snack, they will feel that they NEED a Snickers. All companies do this, from car manufacturers, to soda makers. Car makers don’t want people to think, “I need to get from point A to point B, how can I do that?” Rather, they want you thinking, “I NEED a Lexus.” Coke wants you to crave a Coke, and attain satisfaction only after you’ve enjoyed a Coke. They don’t want you to think, “I’m thirsty, I need a drink,” but rather, “I NEED a Coke”. By understanding the underlying need, you can make your product or service become the underlying need. And when your product or service is what a customer NEEDS, you’ll see your sales increase.